Islam's Harvey Weinstein?

Tariq Ramadan faces an accuser.

Almost every day now, since various actresses began pointing fingers at Harvey Weinstein, yet another celebrity has been accused of sexual misdeeds. Among the latest is Tariq Ramadan.

Who is Ramadan? First, he's Muslim royalty, the grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, who despised the West and preached the doctrine of Islamic conquest of the Christian world. Ramadan himself pretends to be a different kind of Muslim. Mild-mannered and presentable, the silver-tongued, Swiss-born Ramadan poses as a moderate, or even liberal, bridge-builder between Islam and the West. In perfectly fluent French, and decent enough English, he speaks of a future “Euro-Islam” – a peaceful, modernized version of the faith, ushered in by himself and his followers, that would be entirely compatible with Western life and values.

Some of the West's major cultural institutions have been sucked in by the visions Ramadan has spun and the image he's created for himself. He's been on the faculty at Oxford since 2005. The British Foreign Office, while banning from the U.K. such forthright critics of Islam as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, employs Ramadan as an adviser on religion. The New York Times has repeatedly carried water for him: the Times Magazine ran a glowing full-length profile; the Times Book Review published a review of one of his books that read like a press release, and later, in a bizarre and unprecedented move, a piece in which Ramadan spent 2500 words gushing over the supposed humanity, profundity, and poetic beauty of the Koran – without ever mentioning that it is, in reality, little more than a barbaric compendium of commands to kill infidels and accounts of the torment that awaits them after death.

For years, close observers of Ramadan have been well aware that despite his pretense to moderation, he's a wolf in sheep's clothing. It's not really that hard to figure out. He openly supports sharia law. He openly supports female genital mutilation and the stoning of women. He's reportedly on the payroll of the terrorist-funding rulers of Qatar. During the presidency of George W. Bush, he was banned from the U.S. because of suspected terrorist ties. (Hillary Clinton lifted the ban when she became Secretary of State.) He was, and perhaps still is, also prohibited from entering several Muslim countries. For a time he was banned from France, although this ban was apparently lifted at some point, because in 2012, according to a Muslim woman named Henda Ayari, he sexually assaulted her in a Holiday Inn hotel room in Paris when they both there attending an Islamic conference.

I'm shocked. No, not that Tariq Ramadan may have raped somebody. I'm shocked that there's a Holiday Inn in Paris.

Who is Ayari? She's a former hijab-wearing Muslim who, after enduring a forced marriage to a man who (she says) beat her mercilessly, rebelled against her religion's oppression of women and threw off the veil – although, like many such rebels, she continues to identify as a Muslim. Last year published a book entitled J'ai choisi d'être libre (I Chose to Be Free). “I was one of the living dead,” she has said. “Salafism anaesthetized me until I freed myself from its mental chains.” As it happens, her book includes an account of the incident at the Holiday Inn, only with her attacker's identity disguised. “I was completely under the thumb of this intelligent, seductive and manipulative being,” Ayari wrote. So bewitched was she by him, in fact, that she maintained an intimate relationship with him for several months after the assault, until she finally snapped out of it. Now she's angry at what she considers the blatant hypocrisy of this man who “continues to give lessons in Islamic morality.” Not until the other day did Ayari disclose that her attacker was, in fact, Tariq Ramadan. She has since filed charges. 

For journalist Asra Q. Nomani, who has also focused much of her career on denouncing the treatment of women under Islam – even though, like Ayari, she still calls herself a Muslim – Ayari's accusation marks a watershed: Islam, wrote Nomani the other day, “now has its Rose McGowan.” (McGowan is the actress who first blew the whistle on Weinstein.) “And now, if the allegations are true, the conservative Muslim world has its Harvey Weinstein.” Nomani, who refers angrily to Ramadan's “abuse of power,” seems to feel that if he is found guilty, it will shake the very foundations of traditional Islam in the West.

There is, of course, another way of looking at this case – namely, the conventional Muslim way. Since its founding, Islam, for all its intolerance of a wide range of beliefs and behaviors, has been exceedingly tolerant of the male sexual impulse, so long as it is directed at the female form. Under sharia law, charges of rape come to nothing unless the complainant can produce four witnesses to back up her story. If she can't provide four witnesses, her rapist is safe, but she herself is in trouble – because by making such a charge, she's confessing to having committed a sexual act outside of marriage, and on that account can be imprisoned indefinitely, beaten to within an inch of her life, or worse. And that's not all: your average devout Muslim would almost surely make the argument that Ayari, by walking the streets alone and uncovered and writing a book declaring her independence from male authority, has in effect abandoned Islam, and is therefore not only fair game for any Muslim rapist but also deserving of execution for the crime of apostasy.

There's no reason, then, to think that a rape conviction of Tariq Ramadan by a French court would shake the faith of very many of his followers. On the contrary: from their perspective, the case of Henda Ayari simply proves the wisdom of Muhammed's teachings. If only she'd stayed home and kept her head covered, she'd never have been sexually assaulted; by setting foot inside the hotel room of a man other than her husband – and involving herself in discussions of religion and other matters that ought to be left to the male of the species – she was, in the view of faithful Muslims, asking for it.

Tariq Ramadan, then, may be guilty as hell in the eyes of Western law, but he's thoroughly vindicated by the system of law that he himself preaches so passionately, and that is at the very heart of the faith to which his accuser purports to belong. The only baffling piece of this puzzle is that Ayari, even after having written a whole book about her declared self-liberation from Salafism, doesn't seem to get it. She decries the audacity of this man who “continues to give lessons in Islamic morality.” How can she still not grasp, after everything she's been through, that Ramadan's actions in that hotel room are absolutely consistent with “Islamic morality” as he himself preaches it? Similarly, Nomani refers to Ramadan's “abuse of power.” No, as far as the codes of Islam are concerned, Ramadan didn't abuse his power – he simply availed himself of it.

Needless to say, Ayari has all my sympathy. I only hope that this traumatic chapter in her life will help her to understand that to free yourself from Salafism while continuing to identify as a Muslim is an act of folly – an example of sheer self-delusion. The simple, life-or-death lesson that Henda Ayari should take from her experience with Tariq Ramadan is, quite simply, that there is no freedom in Islam – especially for women – and that to pretend otherwise can be fatal.


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